He is quite the guy, this Jason McCrimmon, someone who was not one of those kids growing up that once he left you’d ever expect to come back, never mind give back.
A self-described “handful” when he was a young hockey player in his hometown of Detroit, McCrimmon’s path to pro hockey and back had more potholes than a Michigan highway.
“Let’s just say that growing up as a African American kid in Detroit, the path to play professional hockey was a challenge but I had a great support system with my mother leading the pack. I’m grateful to say the least,” said McCrimmon, who is now head coach of the Motor City Hawks, who will play host to the U.S. Premier Hockey League’s first-ever outdoor game.
Billed as the Heritage Classic, the game between the Hawks and their arch-rival Detroit Fighting Irish is slated for January 29 at Clark Park in Detroit.
As a youngster, McCrimmon’s coaches labeled him a kid with potential but lacking focus — something which actually drove him away from hockey before rediscovering his passion for the sport in his mid-teens.
His size was apparent early and he became an in-demand enforcer before teams realized his work ethic had also made him a very good skater.
Determined, the 6-foot-4, McCrimmon took that drive to build for himself a good enough college and pro career that he ended up as the only American captain in a pro league in Finland.
But the kid they called the “Motor City Hitter” had much bigger plans for his life, thus hung up his playing skates in 2012 at the age of 28 because he wanted a coaching career and a cause.
“I’ve always wanted to come home and be the kind of coach that would not just come up with wins but would develop kids mentally and physically on and off the ice,” he said.
Upon his return to Detroit, where his mother (Barbara Nelson) and daughter (Icecis McCrimmon) live, the big guy coached for two years before meeting up with current Hawks general manager Mark Gilman.
At the same time however, McCrimmon was looking for ways to be a mentor and role model for inner-city Detroit youth.
“Most kids in Detroit play basketball and football. It’s not easy to get a kid in the city to try hockey, but I thought, hey if they actually met someone who did it and was successful at it, they might want to give it a try,” he pointed out.
McCrimmon, who is only one of three Detroit African Americans to ever play pro hockey, started his non-profit, Ice Dreams with fellow Detroiter Cynthia Wardlaw to not just teach kids to skate but to provide family and personal guidance.
Now in its third year, the charity sponsors three youth teams in the city as well as holding annual turkey and toy giveaways over the holidays. He also employs players from the Hawks to lead learn to skate programs on Saturday mornings.
The upcoming, first-ever Heritage Classic is McCrimmon’s brainchild, not just an opportunity to highlight the city he grew up in but to put a spotlight on Ice Dreams.
After working with Detroit city officials and Clark Park Coalition , where the outdoor game will be played, and securing participation from some of the celebrities he skates with every week (former Red Wing and announcer Mickey Redmond and Fox Sports Detroit host Trevor Thompson) the inaugural Heritage Classic is seen as a showcase for the city and the new Midwest Division of the USPHL.
“We could not have done this without the support of city officials who have never hosted an outdoor Junior game in Detroit( Clark Park Arena). We are all excited about the potential of highlighting the re-birth of a city, and the opportunity to provide proceeds for an organization like Detroit Ice Dreams which is making a daily difference in kids’ lives,” said McCrimmon.
The Heritage Classic will pit the Motor City Hawks against downriver rival the Detroit Fighting Irish on Friday, January 29 at 6:45 p.m. Tickets are available online only at www.heritageclassicdetroit.com with proceeds going to Ice Dreams. www.detroiticedreams.com.